Thrifting for planters, pots, and other gardening accessories

With the bitter chill in the air and the steady downpour of rain, it certainly doesn’t feel like spring is coming anytime soon to my nook of the Central Valley. But every now and then, I get a glimpse of sunshine that reminds me that the subtle warmth of early spring isn’t too far away. And with spring comes planting. And with planting comes the perfect excuse to scour thrift stores for gorgeous pots and planters

In the past, I’ve found decent planters and pots at Dollar Tree and Target. But over the last few years, I’ve been more keen about thrifting planters because I find that digging through secondhand treasures inspires creative plant arrangements. Thrifting for plant accessories also makes me feel closer to my mom, since she has an uncanny talent for refurbishing crusty thrifted pieces into gorgeous garden fixtures. 

If find yourself bored with the uninspired pots at big-box garden centers, here’s a list of thriftable items that you can refashion into planters. 

Thrifted items that you can use as plant pots

Thrifting planters and pots

Succulent in ruffled green porcelain planter
I am pretty sure I picked up this beautiful planter at Goodwill in Livermore.

Before I jump into fun things that you can repurpose from the thrift store, let’s talk about literal planters. After Valentine’s Day, thrift stores typically bring out planters and pots for spring and Easter. The best places to look for pots are at the housewares and seasonal sections. While you might find your usual array of basic plastic planters and clay pots, there are often beautiful bone china, concrete, and ceramic pots in the mix, too. 

Thrifting bowls to use as planters

Silver bowl
I got my mom this beautiful silver bowl for Christmas!

Whenever I go thrifting, I like to keep an eye out for large punch bowls. You could drill holes into them, but my mom likes to line them with coconut coir to display showy succulent arrangements

Thrifting cups to use as planters

Rhipsalis in teacup
I adore this little 80-cent cup from the thrift store! I simply put my rhipsalis succulent into a mini terracotta planter and slipped it into the cup.

I love using teacups and mugs as cachepots for my 2- to 4-inch plants. I don’t mean Stanley mugs, of course — I mean those fun, schmaltzy mugs with “live, love, laugh” types of phrases or cheesy vintage holiday motifs on them. Since cups are already glazed (hopefully, anyway), I don’t have to worry about cleaning crusty dirt and mineral buildup. All it takes is a bit of soap and water to clean a cup!  

You can also repurpose thrifted teapots into whimsical planters. While you can’t add too many plants on top of an open teapot, you can still root trailing succulents for a beautiful growing arrangement if other succulents (especially echeveria) prove to be a tight fit. Remember to fill your teapot with rocks or some other type of drainage to mitigate root rot.

Thrifting plates to use as saucers

Hand holding white plate
Plant saucers are typically kind of boring, so why not get fancy with a more ornate plate?

The thrift store is a treasure trove for kitchenware, which is perfect because you can use plates and bowls as saucers for your pots. If you’re partial to a minimal look, opt for a clean white plate. Personally, I love an ornate plate with floral motifs.

Thrifting metal fruit baskets to use as planters

Succulents in black wire basket
My mom has so many thrifted metal baskets lined with coir out in our rock garden.

Granted that they’re rust resistant or powder coated, metal fruit baskets can make for lovely garden fixtures. You can easily line them with coir to grow shallow-rooted plants. I don’t recommend wicker baskets for gardening use since they can grow moldy and nasty from prolonged exposure to moisture. 

Tips for thrifting planters

Pitcher
I gifted my mom this cute pitcher for Mother’s Day so that she could repurpose it into a succulent planter.

Now that you have an idea for some of the things that you can thrift to use as planters, let’s talk about how to look for the just-right piece. 

1. Don’t mind pieces with chips and cracks.

Chips and cracks can lend your foliage display some worn-in charm, and it’s inevitable for a planter to sustain some wear over time. If the perfect piece has a cosmetic defect, you can always turn it around or refurbish it with a bit of acrylic paint . (I love the idea of kintsugi, in which you piece together broken pottery with a gold finish.) 

2. Clean your thrifted planter. 

Cleaning your thrifted planter is a must. You don’t want to spread any unwanted plant diseases or pests! I’m partial to plastic or glazed porcelain because it’s easier to sanitize these surfaces. That said, non-porous surfaces won’t wick away excess water, so water prudently if you keep your plant in a non-porous planter.

3. If you pick up a clay pot, check that it’s not too worn down.

Terracotta pots can become grody over time (sorry I refuse to romanticize the crusty patina). I find that it’s easier to buy clay pots new instead of trying to clean old ones. The only exception to this rule is if the planter has a special design or comes in a one-of-a-kind style.

4. Use your thrifted pot as a cachepot.

I am not very good with a drill, so I more often than not use my thrifted vessels as cachepots. This also makes it easier for me to pull out my nursery pot to water my plant or inspect its roots for issues.  

5. If you love a piece, check if it’s voluminous enough to hold the soil amount your plant needs.

While you want to give your plant breathing room in its permanent home, don’t be afraid to consider unconventional pieces for plant arrangements. My mom’s philosophy is that if you can stuff coir and soil into it, you can flip it into a planter!

I am in awe of the creative possibilities that the thrift store holds, and lately, that awe has been extended to another hobby of mine: plants! Prioritizing secondhand pieces can lend your green oasis a personalized touch, so you don’t have to default plain plastic planters or run-of-the-mill orange terracotta pots. The next time you want to find pots for your plants, hit up your local thrift store before heading to the garden center.